Thousands stranded as Eurostar service is suspended

Service halted after trains broke down and trapped passengers in tunnel

Thousands of would-be travellers remained stranded last night as Eurostar services from London to Paris were suspended indefinitely after six trains broke down in the Channel Tunnel.

More than 2,000 passengers were trapped in the broken-down trains for hours over the weekend. Many had to endure a gruelling wait without food or drink as they waited for rescuers to reach and evacuate them safely.

Freezing weather in northern France, and warm and humid conditions inside the tunnel, caused water to get into the trains' electrical systems, either through condensation or melting ice, Eurostar said. No services will run today as further tests take place.

Pascal Sainson, director of operations for Eurotunnel, said: "The snow entered the locomotives' ventilation system... When the trains entered the great warmth of the tunnel, the electrical system short-circuited and the traction motors of the Eurostars cut out and would not start again."

The problem, said industry sources, has been known about for at least two years and has caused trains to break down in the past – most recently last February, amid similar winter weather with snow and ice.

One source told The Independent: "It's not unprecedented that this kind of issue has occurred where trains have stopped in the tunnel because of the snowy conditions. It happened in February and I've been aware of it for several years."

Another said: "The fault they've had is one they've had before, although not on quite the same scale."

Eurostar admitted yesterday it had been aware of the issue for a while, but maintained that whereas in the past it had affected one train at a time, last weekend was unprecedented in having so many trains break down. Lesley Retallack, a Eurostar spokesman, said there had been similar incidents "on one or two occasions" but that this time it had occurred on an unprecedented scale and at one of the busiest times of year for the company.

Richard Brown, the rail company's chief executive, offered an "abject" apology to passengers who had been trapped underground, and accepted that while the rescue had been a complicated operation, Eurostar's performance had not been as good as he would have hoped.

Last night, a Eurostar spokesman said screens and shields fitted to the trains to stop snow getting into the electrics had failed, and that enginners were working on modifications and would be conducting further tests today.

In France, a senior politician demanded an EU investigation into the "scandalously slow" response to the rescue of passengers. French Euro MP, Dominique Baudis, along with his wife and their son, had been among the passengers who found themselves trapped in the tunnel on Friday night. He said yesterday that the "total inertia" of Eurostar and Eurotunnel in responding to the emergency was a "scandal".

He said: "What I saw amounted to non-assistance to people in danger," – which under French law constitutes a criminal offence punishable by large fines or prison sentences.

Severe weather conditions continued in much of Britain yesterday, with more than 20cm of snow falling across areas of western Scotland, north-west England and the Pennines. Further heavy snowfalls were experienced in the Midlands and the North-east.

Driving conditions were treacherous and many roads had to be closed temporarily as vehicles became stuck in the ice and snow. The AA reported its busiest weekend of the year, with 20,000 calls for assistance on Saturday and a further 7,000 by Sunday lunchtime.

Gavin Hill-Smith, of the AA, said some of the calls were from people who simply needed help getting their cars off driveways and onto the roads.

"Many roads have been treacherous if not unpassable," he said. "There have been a lot of low-speed accidents.

It's not so much the snow, it's the ice that causes the problems. People underestimate the braking distance they need – it can be tenfold on their normal braking distance."

Angela Comb, of Traffic Master, which monitors traffic flows nationwide, said roads in Manchester and Derbyshire were the worst-hit by snow yesterday. Among the closures caused by snow was the M60 from junction 10 to 11. She added: "There have been icy conditions across the whole country."

At Manchester Airport there were delays to flights because staff had repeatedly to sweep the runway clear of snow. At Heathrow there were more than 30 cancelled flights, but most were a result of difficult weather conditions at destinations in Europe.

Er, anyone for the Arctic express?

*On reflection, it may not have been the best time to make the announcement, Richard Garner writes.

While thousands of passengers were stranded as Eurostar ground to a halt, Vladimir Yakunin, president of Russia's state-run railway service, revealed ambitious plans to connect his country to North America via a railway tunnel.

He told the Sunday Express his engineers had been studying the Channel tunnel as a model for a new 64-mile tunnel under the Bering Sea.

The £40bn plan would mean boring through two islands in the straits and constructing more than 3,000 miles of new track through Eastern Russia. Lines would also have to be built through Arctic terrain in Alaska. The project was first dreamt up by Tsar Nicholas II a century ago but has been in cold storage since then.

Mr Yakunin said: "Already some representatives from some funds in the US have come to me about my ambition to run trains from Russia to the US. We could link up half the world. Why not? It's possible and it may be feasible within 10 years."

Doubts were cast on the viability of the project, though, with rail experts querying whether there would be enough demand from potential travellers. After so many passengers were stranded on Eurostar this weekend in somewhat milder weather conditions than one could expect in an Arctic winter, it may be there are a number of people who would share that concern.

Suggested Topics
News
Emma Watson has become the latest target of the 4Chan nude hacking scandal
peopleThreats follows actress' speech on feminism and equality at the UN
News
Alan Bennett criticised the lack of fairness in British society encapsulated by the private school system
peopleBut he does like Stewart Lee
Sport
David Moyes and Louis van Gaal
football
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
tech
Life and Style
Alan Turing, who was convicted of gross indecency in 1952, was granted a royal pardon last year
life
Life and Style
life
Arts and Entertainment
Tennis player Andy Murray's mum Judy has been paired with Anton du Beke for Strictly Come Dancing. 'I'm absolutely delighted,' she said.
tvJudy Murray 'struggling' to let Anton Du Beke take control on Strictly
Life and Style
Vote with your wallet: the app can help shoppers feel more informed about items on sale
lifeNew app reveals political leanings of food companies
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of Dark Side of the Moon
musicCan 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition? See for yourself
Sport
New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden pictured in The Zookeeper's Son on a late-night drinking session
rugby
Arts and Entertainment
Worldwide ticket sales for The Lion King musical surpassed $6.2bn ($3.8bn) this summer
tvMusical is biggest grossing show or film in history
Voices
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
voicesMaybe the new app will make it more normal to reach out to strangers
Arts and Entertainment
Salmond told a Scottish television chat show in 2001that he would also sit in front of a mirror and say things like,
tvCelebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
News
i100
Life and Style
food + drink
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Business Analyst/ Project Manager - Financial Services

£60000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client in the Financial...

Welsh Medium Teacher

£85 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Chester: Job Opportunity for Secondary ...

Primary Tutors needed in Chester

Negotiable: Randstad Education Chester: Primary Tutoring in Cheshire West &amp...

IT Teacher

£85 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Chester: Job Opportunity for Secondary ...

Day In a Page

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits